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Matt Hancock dodges claim he lied to PM over care home crisis

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Matt Hancock dodges claim he lied to PM over care home crisis
Matt Hancock dodges claim he lied to PM over care home crisis
  • Johnson has a Hancock-shaped headache
  • Prime Minister’s ex-aide takes his revenge
  • Contradictions kept piling up in Cummings’ rewriting of history
  • The animosity a long time in the making
  • Allister Heath: Covid could yet destroy PM. But not in the way Cummings expects
  • Coronavirus latest news: Hancock says it’s too early to confirm June 21 reopening

Matt Hancock has refused to deny that he lied to the Prime Minister over last year’s care home crisis, after Dominic Cummings accused him of telling Mr Johnson than anyone discharged from a hospital would first be tested.

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing on Thursday evening, Mr Hancock said his “recollection” was that he had committed to testing people discharged from hospital, but did not yet have the capacity to deliver on his promise.

He suggested he had only promised to test all people leaving hospitals to go into care homes “when we could do it”.

The seeding of coronavirus from hospitals to care homes last year caused a huge spike in infections and deaths.

“There’ll be a time when we go back over all this in great detail, but my recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes, when we could do it,” he said.

“I then went away and built the testing capacity for all sorts of reasons and all sorts of uses, including this one, and then delivered on the commitment that I made. 

“That’s kind of a normal way of how you get things done in Government. You work out what needs to happen, you commit to making it happen. You go away and deliver on that commitment, and then you can put the policy in place.”

Mr Hancock declined to say whether Mr Johnson had given him reassurance that he still had his confidence as Health Secretary.

His appearance came after Mr Johnson rejected Dominic Cummings’s claim he is “unfit for the job” and insisted that much of his former right-hand man’s testimony “doesn’t bear any relation to reality”.

Asked specifically about the claim he was not fit for office, Mr Johnson told journalists: “I think it’s important for us to focus on what really matters to the people of this country. I think, if I may say so, that some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.”

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Hancock told MPs: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true. I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”

6:25PM

That’s all from us

We’ll be back tomorrow morning with all the latest from Westminster.

We asked you…

Whether you believed Dominic Cummings’s claims in his explosive committee session on Wednesday.

  • 69 per cent of readers said no: Mr Cummings is a scorned former aide settling scores.
  • 31 per cent said yes, his claims had a ring of truth.

See you tomorrow.

5:41PM

Hancock dodges another question on Cummings testimony

Steven Swinford from the Times asks Mr Hancock whether he has spoken to the Prime Minister about the allegation he was a serial liar last year, and whether Mr Johnson has given him reassurance that he has his confidence as Health Secretary.

“The Prime Minister and I talk all the time, and we’re working incredibly hard on getting this vaccine rollout as broad as possible, making sure people get their second doses,” he says.

“We are obviously very vigilant to the particular to the areas of the country where cases are starting to rise and as I’ve set out, so that’s what we focus on.

“Because that is what really matters to getting this country out of this pandemic.

“This isn’t over yet. And in a way, the rise in case rates in the last couple of days demonstrate that we’ve all got to be vigilant.

“All of us have got to take personal responsibility for what we can do to help keep this under control, as we get the vaccine rolled out.

“It is a race between the two. And that’s what we’re focused on,” he says.

5:33PM

Hancock says his ‘recollection’ was that he promised testing would happen when it could be done

Matt Hancock says his “recollection” is that he only promised to deliver testing for hospital patients when the capacity was available.

“There’ll be a time when we go back over all this in great detail, but my recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes, when we could do it,” he says.

“I then went away and built the testing capacity for all sorts of reasons and all sorts of uses, including this one, and then delivered on the commitment that I made. 

“That’s kind of a normal way of how you get things done in Government. You work out what needs to happen, you commit to making it happen. You go away and deliver on that commitment, and then you can put the policy in place.

“There’ll be a time when we can go through all of this in greater detail. The most important thing right now is that we’ve still got a pandemic to handle and to manage, and hence the announcements that we’re making today on vaccination, and the work that we’re doing to try to make sure we keep this epidemic under control.”

5:25PM

Matt Hancock dodges question he lied over care home testing

Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC asks Mr Hancock whether he told Downing Street that people who left hospitals for care homes in the first wave were tested first.

Dominic Cummings yesterday claimed that Mr Hancock had lied to the Prime Minister that people would be tested, only for them to seed more infections in care homes.

The Health Secretary gives a long answer in which he suggests there was not enough capacity to test people leaving hospitals at the time. He does not deny that he lied to the Prime Minister.

“We worked as hard as we could to protect people in living care homes, and of course those who live in care homes are some of the most vulnerable to this disease,” he says.

“By its nature, [Covid] attacks, and has more of an impact on older people.

“Now when it comes to the testing of people as they left hospital and went into care homes, we committed to building the testing capacity to allow that to happen.

“Of course, it then takes time to build testing capacity.

“In fact, one of the critical things we did was set the 100,000 target back then, to make sure we built that testing capacity, and it was very effective in doing so.

“And then we were able to introduce the policy of testing everybody before going into care homes, but we could only do that once we have the testing capacity, which I had to build, because we didn’t have it in this country from the start.”

5:21PM

Matt Hancock: Vaccine works ‘effectively the same’ against Kent and Indian variants

This is from our Political Editor, Ben Riley-Smith. 

Hancock says effectiveness of vaccines for Indian variant ‘does appear to be effectively the same’ as Kent variant after two doses.

— Ben Riley-Smith (@benrileysmith) May 27, 2021 2:37PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg rejects call for post-Brexit ‘localised’ tax regime 

The Government has been called upon to consider a “localised” tax regime as part of the UK’s post-Brexit freedoms. 
Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, asked Jacob Rees-Mogg to dedicate some time for “a debate on ending VAT and introducing a more flexible sales tax system”, suggesting that a “possibly localised” approach may have benefits. 

Mr Rees-Mogg said he was “certainly intrigued by his idea that we should have local competition in tax systems which they have in the United States”. 

But he added: “It is worth noting that VAT is a broad-based tax on consumption and it’s designed to ensure the fair treatment of both consumers and businesses, and has been adopted not just in the European Union but by I think 170 countries.

“So it may be that going away from VAT would not just be a statement of our Brexit independence but might be going against something that is a system that works quite well globally.” 

2:20PM

Covid case rates rise across most regions of England

Covid-19 case rates in most regions of England have risen slightly, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England.

North-west England saw the largest rise, with 52.8 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 23, up week-on-week from 39.0.

The East Midlands is the only region to have seen a slight fall in rates, down from 21.7 to 21.0.

It comes as the number of rapid Covid-19 tests carried out in England has fallen to its lowest level in five weeks – despite all members of the public being eligible to take two rapid tests a week.

Just under 4.9 million rapid tests were conducted in England in the week to May 19, according to the latest Test and Trace figures – down four per cent on the previous week.  

2:11PM

‘We don’t need Cummings to tells us care home rhetoric was nonsense’, says Labour MP

There has been a “higher proportion of deaths in care homes in England than almost any other country in the developed world”, shadow social care minister Liz Kendall has said.

She told the Commons: “Over the last 15 months, people with dementia and their families have suffered perhaps more than anyone else because of Covid-19. A quarter of all deaths from this awful virus have been amongst those with dementia, predominantly because of the tragedy in our care homes.”

The Leicester West MP and one-time leadership hopeful added: “The official guidance on testing before discharge to care homes did not change until April 16 last year, almost a month after we all went into national lockdown.

“We do not need Mr Cummings to tell us the rhetoric about putting a protective shield around care homes was complete nonsense, the evidence is there for all to see.”

The UK has one of the highest share of deaths amongst its care home residents 1:51PM

Bereaved families demand urgent meeting with Matt Hancock following Cummings’s claims

The Government has “missed the point” and is engaged in a “political pantomime” in the wake of Dominic Cummings’s testimony, a bereaved families campaign group has said. 

Following Matt Hancock’s Commons statement today the Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice claimed the Health Secretary has “refused to answer a single one from us – how can he when both himself and the Prime Minister have refused to meet with us directly on seven occasions?”

They urged Mr Hancock to meet next week and to release the internal ‘lessons learned’ inquiry. 

“How else can you stand there and tell bereaved families across the country you are open and transparent?” 

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice statement after Matt Hancock commons statement:

In Parliament Matt Hancock claimed that he and the Govt has a track record of openness, transparency & explanation & that they ”will keep on with the spirit of openness and transparency”.

1/6 pic.twitter.com/1nr7rn0Ebt

— Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK (@CovidJusticeUK) May 27, 2021 1:24PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg: ‘Ridiculous’ that punishments are worse for ‘misusing envelopes than sexual misconduct’

Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was “frankly ridiculous that we have a higher sanction for somebody who uses a few envelopes incorrectly than for somebody who is involved in sexual misconduct”.

He said: “It’s not so much a loophole as an active decision that was made in response to the views expressed by staff groups that they were concerned about issues relating to confidentiality if recall were allowed on ICGS cases, and they were also worried about the requirement to involve a committee in the House of Commons.

“In my own opinion I think that those worries are not proportionate to the need to be clear that this House and all politicians think that sexual misconduct is at the most serious level of misbehaviour.

“It is frankly ridiculous that we have a higher sanction for somebody who uses a few envelopes incorrectly than for somebody who is involved in sexual misconduct.”

1:22PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg calls on Rob Roberts to do the ‘honourable’ thing

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said it would be “honourable” for disgraced MP Rob Roberts to stand down after he breached sexual misconduct rules.

The Commons Leader confirmed the Government is looking at dealing with a loophole which prevents constituents of Mr Roberts from forcing a by-election. 

The Delyn MP faces being suspended from the Commons for six weeks after breaching sexual misconduct rules by making repeated unwanted advances to a member of staff. He also lost the Tory whip, but the way recall laws are drawn up means he cannot face the prospect of losing his seat.

Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “Following a case of this severity in which it would be honourable for a member to stand down after the withdrawal of the whip, we need to look at whether the process is striking the right balance between the defendants, protecting the confidentiality of the complainants and in ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case.”

1:06PM

Keir Starmer stops short of saying Boris Johnson is ‘unfit for the job’

Sir Keir Starmer has stopped short of agreeing with Dominic Cummings that Boris Johnson is “unfit for the job”. 

Asked directly whether he agreed with the former adviser, the Labour leader told jourrnalists: “I don’t think the Prime Minister has made good decisions in this pandemic.

“I was very concerned about the repeated mistakes from the first wave into the second wave, and in particular the slowness to lock down in the autumn, and I think the Prime Minister got that completely wrong.

“There are consequences and this is what all these allegations are about and that’s why the inquiry needs to be fast-forwarded, and we can’t have this drip, drip, drip of allegations, and we need to get to the bottom of it.”

1:03PM

Boris Johnson v Dominic Cummings is ‘Hobson’s Choice’, says Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer has said it is “Hobson’s Choice” whose account to believe, saying: “You have got Dominic Cummings on one hand and the Prime Minister on the other.

“I don’t think Dominic Cummings should have the last word on this and that’s why all the evidence should be put before the committee, the Health Secretary should answer the allegations and the inquiry should be fast-forwarded.

“It’s not about taking anyone’s word – it’s about getting to the bottom of it.

“We also have to look at the other evidence. We know people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without tests, we know protective equipment didn’t get to the frontline on time and we know the Prime Minister was slow to lockdown, particularly in the autumn and we know the consequence of that was the highest death toll in Europe.”

1:00PM

Have your say: Do you believe Dominic Cummings?

Dominic Cummings made some explosive claims during his seven-hour hearing yesterday – but were they true?

Matt Hancock has insisted they are not, telling MPs he has been “straight” throughout. Boris Johnson – somewhat more equivocally – said “some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.”

Labour insists his claims should be taken seriously – but struggle to explain why they are putting more credence in his words, having previously rubbished him.  

Yet a campaigner for the Bereaved Families for Justice said the account given by Mr Cummings fits his evidence. 

So who do you believe? Have your say in the poll below. 

12:56PM

Dominic Cummings was ‘speaking the truth’, says Bereaved Families for Justice campaigner 

Dominic Cummings “was actually speaking the truth” about the Government’s negligence for care homes, a campaigner for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice has said.

Charlie Williams, whose father died in a care home, said he was “absolutely sickened” by the former aide’s evidence. 

“It confirmed what we all knew – we have gathered evidence for the last 12 months on various different categories… all that Dominic said yesterday absolutely confirms our evidence,” he told Sky News. 

“We hold him to account as weld as the rest of the Government, but he was actually speaking the truth.”

Mr Williams attacked Matt Hancock for obfuscating in the Commons today, but said the “buck stops” with Boris Johnson. 

12:52PM

Cummings’s claims ‘paint a picture that leads to the PM’, says Starmer

Dominic Cummings’s claims “paint a picture that leads to the Prime Minister”, Sir Keir Starmer has said today. 

Asked whether Matt Hancock should remain in post, Sir Keir Starmer said: “There are very serious allegations in relation to the Health Secretary and so serious that, if true, are a breach of the ministerial code.

“We need to get to the bottom of it and Dominic Cummings cannot be the last word on this.

“We need all the evidence on this, we need to see the answers the Health Secretary puts forward and the select committee needs to have all the evidence,” he added. 

“They are very, very serious allegations. They paint a picture that leads to the Prime Minister and the buck stops with him.”

12:49PM

Lobby latest: No 10 ‘not aware’ if Lord Sedwill has been contacted over Cummings’s claims

Downing Street said it was not aware of any discussions with Lord Sedwill to respond to claims made by Dominic Cummings.

Mr Cummings alleged the former Cabinet Secretary had told Boris Johnson to fire Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and that he had advised Mr Johnson to go on television to explain the coronavirus plan was to reach herd immunity, likening it to chickenpox parties.

Asked whether Lord Sedwill had been contacted by No 10 to allow him to deny the claims, the PM’s spokesman said: “I’m not aware of any communication on that front.”

12:47PM

Boris Johnson dodges string of questions about Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson has failed to answer a string of questions about claims made by Dominic Cummings yesterday. 

The Prime Minister dodged a questions about whether his former adviser had told the truth, and pressed on whether he disputed the things Mr Cummings said, the Prime Minister said: “I make no comment on that.”

Asked whether he said he would rather see “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown, Boris Johnson said: “I have already made my position very clear on that point.

“I’m getting on with the job of delivering the road map that I think is the sensible way forward.”

Mr Johnson has previously denied making the comment, which Dominic Cummings told MPs he heard from the Prime Minister in his Downing Street study.

12:44PM

Lobby latest: No answer on whether Boris Johnson regrets hiring Dominic Cummings

Downing Street has side-stepped a question about whether Boris Johnson regretted hiring Dominic Cummings. 

Rather than answer the question directly, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is a matter of fact that the Prime Minister took on Dominic Cummings into that role, into a senior role in No 10, and he’s on the record on that, talks about it on a number of occasions, I don’t have anything to add.”

His official spokesman said he had not asked Mr Johnson whether Mr Cummings was trustworthy and honest, but he added: “The Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings worked together for a number of months… but you’ve got his words from that time.”

12:42PM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson is not’obsessed with the media’, says No 10 

Downing Street has denied that Boris Johnson is “obsessed with the media”, as claimed by Dominic Cummings.

Asked whether the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds had tried to fill jobs with her friends, another claim made by Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “All appointments made in No 10 are done in the normal way, that’s always been the case.”

12:42PM

Lobby latest: Cooperation with Hungary vital, says No 10

Downing Street has defended a meeting between Boris Johnson and controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, due to take place tomorrow. 

Asked what would be discussed at the meeting, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “As president of the Visegard Group of Central European nations later this year, co-operation with Hungary is vital to the UK’s prosperity and security.”

He said the meeting would “promote UK interests in these areas and discuss issues in the wider region”.

12:23PM

Boris Johnson: Cummings ‘commentary doesn’t relate to reality’

Boris Johnson has insisted “some of the commentary” relating to Dominic Cummings’ claims yesterday “doesn’t bear any relation to reality”. 

Asked about his former adviser’s claim that he was not a fit person to be leading the country, the Prime Minister said: “I think it’s important for us to focus on what really matters to the people of this country.

“I think, if I may say so, that some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.

“What people want us to get on with is delivering the road map and trying – cautiously – to take our country forward through what has been one of the most difficult periods that I think anybody can remember.”

12:09PM

Boris Johnson: Government did ‘everything we could’ to protect care homes

Boris Johnson has insisted the Government did “everything we could” to protect care homes, but admitted: “What happened in care homes was tragic”.

Speaking to journalists for the first time since Dominic Cummings claimed that the so-called ‘protective ring’ did not exist, the Prime Minister said: “We did everything we could to protect the NHS and minimise transmission.

“We did not know at the beginning of the pandemic quite the way the virus could be transmitted asymptomatically.

“What we are doing now is trying, obviously, to protect all residents in all care homes. They have all had vaccines – up to 99, 100 per cent. That is the crucial thing.”

He appeared to ignore a question about whether he had “full confidence” in Matt Hancock. 

12:01PM

Pandemic decisions ‘not taken lightly’, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said the Government had to take an “incredibly difficult series of decisions” to tackle coronavirus, “none of which we have taken lightly”.

Speaking for the first time since Dominic Cummings gave evidence to MPs on Wednesday, Mr Johnson told reporters on a visit to a hospital in Essex that lockdowns were a “very, very painful and traumatic thing” that had to be “set against the horror of the pandemic” and that he had followed the scientific data.

11:51AM

Boris Johnson insists ‘horrors of pandemic’ were weighed up for second lockdown

Boris Johnson has defended his reluctance to impose a second lockdown, saying he had to balance the economic concerns against “the horrors of the pandemic”. 

The Prime Minister insisted he had always followed the science, and was continuing to do so. 

11:49AM

Michael Gove insists he was not completely absent from Dominic Cummings’ claims

It’s not just Matt Hancock who has been defending himself today – Michael Gove has had to explain why he was conspicuously absent from Dominic Cummings’ seven-hour testimony yesterday. 

Mr Cummings is a former ally of Mr Gove and key member of his team in the Department of Education, during the Cameron administration – prompting a certain degree of scepticism about why he did not feature during the mammoth session. 

The Cabinet Office minister told MPs he hadn’t watched the hearing, but added: “I do understand that I was mentioned and the point was made that I got some things wrong,” he added. 

“I’ve got lots of things wrong. But of course we will reflect on those in due course.”

Mr Gove’s response came as one Tory MP, Dehenna Davison, appeared via video link in the Commons with a spoof eye test chart reading “Barnard Castle”.

11:32AM

Labour MPs glued to their screens during question about bereaved families

Labour MP Rashanara Ali asks a sobering question, highlighting the many deaths in her own family as well as her constituency and the “incredibly distressing” testimony from Dominic Cummings yesterday. 

She asks Matt Hancock to “admit to the failures today and apologise” to bereaved families and asks for him to “bring forward the date urgently” of the public inquiry. 

Mr Hancock responds sensitively, noting that he has also been personally affected by the pandemic. 

He says “it is vital that people have the opportunity to get answers”, and that lessons are being learned constantly, but it is the “right approach” to have a full inquiry “afterwards”. 

As Reuters’ Will James points out, Ms Ali did not get a huge amount of moral support from her own benches. 

The opposition benches right now during Matt Hancock’s statement.

Note: That is a Labour MP asking a question virtually, and others have too. pic.twitter.com/D55FgJxPZo

— William James (@WJames_Reuters) May 27, 2021

We were told that Dominic Cummings was out to “damage Boris Johnson and the Government as much as possible”, writes Sherelle Jacobs.

In the end, the prime target wasn’t the Prime Minister, but  Matt Hancock, who found himself in the receiving end of a blunt knife in the front from the former adviser who had vowed to reveal all.

Embarrassing allegations that Boris Johnson was advised to retain him because “he’s the person you fire when an inquiry comes along” will heap pressure on the PM to make good on this threat sooner rather than later. 

Read more of Sherelle’s analysis here.

10:22AM

Coming up… Matt Hancock to rebut Dominic Cummings’s claims 

Matt Hancock leaves his London home Matt Hancock leaves his London home Credit: London News Pictures

Matt Hancock is sometimes likened to Tigger in his boundless enthusiam and energy. 

But today he will be challenged over whether that enthusiasm tipped over into exaggeration and – as Dominic Cummings yesterday alleged – lying. 

Former colleagues of the Health Secretary have suggested it is “v plausible”, citing examples where he had jumped the gun on work. 

“I think it is more over-enthusiasm with Matt. He hears things are possible and then tells you it is already happening,” the source says. “I don’t know whether it was wilful deceit – which I doubt – or out of control optimism.”

10:15AM

Have your say: Is Dominic Cummings to be believed? 

Westminster was enthralled by the testimony given by one-time Svengali figure Dominic Cummings yesterday. 

His explosive claims about Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson and others have set tongues wagging today – but the former aide’s credibility problem is casting doubt over whether he should be believed. 

Labour insists his claims should be taken seriously – but struggle to explain why they are putting more credence in his words, having previously rubbished him. 

Number 10 will be watching nervously to see whether the public believe Mr Cummings over his former boss. So who do you believe?

Have your say in the poll below. 

10:07AM

Batley and Spen by-election set for July 

Kim Leadbetter is standing for Labour in the seat held by her sister Jo Cox, before she was murdered Kim Leadbetter is standing for Labour in the seat held by her sister Jo Cox, before she was murdered Credit: Paul Grover for the Telegraph

Voters in Batley and Spen will go to the polls on July 1, with the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox hoping to retain the seat for Labour.

Kim Leadbeater has been selected as the Labour candidate for the by-election in the West Yorkshire constituency previously represented by her sister. The by-election was triggered after Tracy Brabin had to quit Westminster following her election as the first mayor of West Yorkshire.

The writ for the by-election was moved in the Commons by Labour on Thursday, with the party saying polling day will take place on July 1.

Labour is defending a majority of 3,525 over the Tories from the 2019 general election and Sir Keir Starmer’s party will be desperate to avoid losing another northern seat, after it failed to cling onto Hartlepool earlier this month. 

9:51AM

Government to scrap ‘arbitrary rule’ paving the way for expats to retain ‘votes for life’

British citizens who have moved abroad will be given “votes for life” under new measures announced today. 

The Government will set out further detail on plans to scrap “the arbitrary rule” that prevents British citizens from voting in General Elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years. 

The changes, which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also include measures to enable overseas electors to stay registered to vote for longer, with an absent voting arrangement in place. 

Lord True, the Cabinet Office minister, said:  “In an increasingly global and connected world, most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country.

“These measures support our vision for a truly Global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”

9:45AM

Dominic Cummings raised issues that should be addressed now, says scientist

Professor Stephen Reicher told BBC Breakfast of the need for an urgent public inquiry into what went wrong.

He said: “Many of the issues raised by Dominic Cummings about infection control, about supporting people to be self-isolated, about the messaging, about the borders, they’re still issues that are going on when we’re very concerned about the rise of this new variant…

“Yesterday should have been a public inquiry, it shouldn’t have been Dominic Cummings giving his side of the story, and, had it been a public inquiry, we might be saving lives for the future.

“We can’t, tragically, do anything about those who are lost, but perhaps it will give meaning to what happens if their experience teaches us lessons so that we learn for the future.”

9:34AM

Planet Normal: ‘Dominic Cummings has done his own intellect a disservice’

The gloves were off in Westminster yesterday as Dominic Cummings unleashed his blow-by-blow attack on the Government’s handling of the pandemic – and hosts of The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan were watching.

On this week’s show, Liam tells listeners why Mr Cummings’ performance did his own intellect a disservice, Allison tells us why she thinks Health Secretary Matt Hancock is the real pantomime villain and our podcast hosts agree that the former adviser may have delivered one punch too many.

Listen below. 

Planet Normal Ros Jones 9:30AM

Ministers ‘side-stepped’ Sage advice without explanation, claims scientist

The Government “side-stepped” advice without explanation when “the science didn’t suit”, a Sage scientist has claimed. 

Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, told Sky News that one example was the move from the two-metre rule to one-metre plus, where “Sage didn’t waver from its advice that two metres was significantly safer”. 

She added: “Instead of saying well actually, ‘we’re not going to follow that advice for these reasons’… the Prime Minister said he set up a Downing Street review of some scientists and economists and then, on the basis of that, they changed to one metre-plus.

“But we were never told who were the people on that review? What evidence did they look at? How did they come to their conclusions? And so that’s an example where, when the science didn’t suit, the Government side-stepped it without any transparency, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

9:15AM

Boris Johnson has ‘done a great job and deserves our respect’, says minister

The Prime Minister “has done a great job for the country and deserves our respect”, the Communities Secretary has said. 

Asked whether the public can have confidence in Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the wider Government,Robert Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, let me answer the thrust of the question, which is should we have confidence in the way that the Prime Minister has handled the pandemic? Absolutely.

“I’ve seen somebody address this with the utmost seriousness, someone who almost died of Covid at one stage, came straight back to work, got on with running the country, addressed this as best as he possibly could, always acting with the best motives and intentions, albeit with imperfect information at times in a uniquely challenging moment.

“I think he has done a great job for the country and deserves our respect.”

9:12AM

Local advice change ‘could have been better communicated’, minister admits

Robert Jenrick has admitted advice surrounding socialising and travelling issued to local areas with higher rates of the Indian variant of coronavirus “could have been better communicated”.

The measures were added to the Government’s website on Friday for Burnley, Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside, but local leaders said they had not been told and were unaware until it was reported on by local media.

The Communities Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the guidance that was put out to local councils could have been better communicated, but we are going through a period now where we’re moving away from a legalistic approach, where regulations are set out in law, it’s black and white, and we’re moving into a phase where we’re asking people to show personal responsibility.

“And so that does mean that we’re going to have to think carefully about how we communicate that to the public.”

9:04AM

Labour: Facts back Cummings’s claims

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has said there are “some facts” to back up Dominic Cummings’s claims.

She told Sky News that the problems in care homes and the death toll – the highest in Europe – reinforced some of the former aide’s claims. That is why a public inquiry needs to start immediately, she argued.

“There’s many people today who have lost loved ones, including myself, throughout this pandemic who will be devastated to hear that that could have been needless, and we need to know the answer to that,” she said.

9:04AM

Dominic Cummings is ‘screaming hypocrite’, claims MP

Robert Jenrick might be shying away from commenting on Dominic Cummings’ reliability, but others are being less circumspect. 

One senior Tory says the former aide is a “screaming hypocrite”.  “He said he wasn’t the right person to be there, but was still trying to recruit more freaks and weirdos to the place. He said Boris wasn’t fit to be PM but was central in putting him there.”

9:03AM

Minister sidesteps questions about Dominic Cummings’s reliability

Dominic Cummings “tried his best” when he was in Government, Robert Jenrick has said. 

The Communities Secretary said it was not “very helpful to get into allegations” made by former aide yesterday.

But asked if the adviser was “reliable”, Mr Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I worked well with Dominic when he was in Government, he tried his best as I think everybody did to serve the country to the best of their availability. He has now left Government and you heard him give his side of the events, which he is completely at liberty to do so.” 

Asked again, he said he would not “get into making personal allegations”.

9:02AM

Cummings’s ‘Lions led by donkeys’ claim is ‘not fair assessment’, says minister

Robert Jenrick has said Dominic Cummings’ claim that Government is full of “lions led by donkeys” is not “a fair assessment”. 

The Communities Secretary said he did not intend to answer every claim Mr Cummings put forward, but told BBC Breakfast: “I think the Prime Minister led the country through this with huge determination and resilience.

“He himself almost died of Covid at one point, bounced back, got back into running the country incredibly quickly.

“We had brilliant scientific advisers like Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance. We had the vaccine taskforce that the Prime Minister established himself. These things didn’t happen by accident, they happened because of active decisions made by the Prime Minister.”

9:02AM

Cummings at you: Six key claims for Matt Hancock to counter

Dominic Cummings made a series of pretty serious claims about Matt Hancock yesterday, which he is likely to have to rebut today. Here are six of the most explosive claims:

  • He is a liar: Cummings said Hancock “should have been fired for at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody in multiple occasions, in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly”. Specific points are that he lied about access to treatment and the protective ring for care homes. 
  • Cabinet Secretary ‘lost confidence’ in him: Cummings claimed that Lord Sedwill said he had “lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty” and made his concerns clear to Boris Johnson.
  • ‘Not even a plan to bury all the bodies’: Cummings claimed that Hancock had reassured him early on there was a pandemic plan in place, but it transpired there was “nada” – which is why lockdown was further delayed. 
  • “Criminal” test target: Cummings claimed that Hancock erred when he went public with the 100,000 test target, meaning that resource was diverted to a short-term “stupid” goal.
  • Responsibilities removed: Cummings claimed that the Health Secretary job had to be “divvied up” because the department was “overwhelmed”. He also claimed this was why the vaccines taskforce reported directly into Boris Johnson. 
  • ‘Tens of thousands died’ unnecessarily: It’s not clear this charge was levelled specifically at Hancock – who has been less hawkish on the lockdowns than others in the Cabinet – but it’s a serious claim nonetheless.

8:29AM

Step four of roadmap ‘hangs in the balance’, says Prof Ferguson

Professor Neil Ferguson has warned that the final stage in the roadmap for England hangs “in the balance”.

The Imperial scientist said experts were still concerned about issues including the transmissibility of the Indian variant and “Step 4 (of the road map) is rather in the balance, the data collected in the next two to three weeks will be critical”.

He added: “The key issue as to whether we can go forward is: will the surge caused by the Indian variant – and we do think there will be a surge – be more than has been already planned in to the relaxation measures?

“So it was always expected that relaxation would lead to a surge in infections and to some extent a small third wave of transmission – that’s inevitable if you allow contact rates in population to go up, even despite immunity – (but) we can’t cope with that being too large.

“In the next two or three weeks we will be able to come to a firm assessment of whether it’s possible to go forward.”

8:27AM

Boris Johnson was ‘listening to advice’ during second wave, minister insists

Boris Johnson was “listening to the advice available” and doing “at every turn what he thought was best”, at the start of the second wave last autumn, a Cabinet minister has insisted. 

Challenged over the fact that there were more deaths in the second wave than the first, several months into the pandemic, Robert Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme that it was “not true to say we knew all about the virus then… it wouldn’t be true to say today.

“We didn’t know about the new variants, we didn’t know quite how serious that challenge would become.”

He added: “We did take action, we did go into further measures.”

8:21AM

Prime Minister considered ‘all the evidence’ before ruling out September lockdown

Boris Johnson looked at “all the evidence in the round” when deciding not to lock the country down in September, the Communities Secretary has said. 

Robert Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme it was “not an easy decision to take” and those arguing for a circuit breaker “were wrong”. 

The Prime Minister instead opted for a tiered system “which may well have worked” if it was not for the Kent variant, Mr Jenrick added. 

8:19AM

Boris Johnson acted ‘with the best of motives’ at start of Covid outbreak

Robert Jenrick has defended the Government from Dominic Cummings’ claim that tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily.

The Communities Secretary told Radio 4’s Today programme that the former aide was “free to give his side of the story, but we will be setting out our version of events when it comes to the full public inquiry next year”. 

Asked if it was wrong to suggest that tens of thousands of people had died unnecessarily, Mr Jenrick said: “Yes I think it was, because you have to remember that we didn’t have all of the facts at the time the decisions were being taken.

“Nobody could doubt that the Prime Minister was doing anything other than acting with the best of motives with the information and advice that was available to him.” 

8:16AM

Professor Lockdown appears to agree with Cummings claims on herd immunity strategy

The scientist whose modelling was modelling was instrumental in persuading Boris Johnson to bring in the first lockdown has appeared to back up claims made by Dominic Cummings about the lack of a plan in mid-March. 

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London,  said scientists had become increasingly concerned in the week leading up to March 13 2020 about the lack of a clear plan, and 20,000 to 30,000 lives could have been saved with earlier action.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I would say from the scientific side there was increasing concern that week leading up to the 13 of March about the lack of clear, let’s say, resolved plans of what would happen in the next few days in terms of implementing social distancing.”

Prof Ferguson added: “As we saw the data build up, and it was matching the modelling, even worse than the modelling, let’s say it focused minds”.

Locking down a week earlier would have “unarguably” saved 20,000 to 30,000 lives, he said. 

8:13AM

Matt Hancock smiles ahead of bruising Commons appearance

Matt Hancock looked chipper as he left for work this morning Matt Hancock looked chipper as he left for work this morning Credit: PA

Matt Hancock will be up in the Commons from 10:30am, and it is likely to be a bruising session. 

Not only will he find himself challenged on numerous allegations made by Dominic Cummings, he will also face difficult questions over the extent that the Indian variant has spread. 

8:08AM

Robert Jenrick: ‘Not my experience’ that Matt Hancock is a ‘liar’

People have only heard “one side of the story” about the Government’s handling of the pandemic, Robert Jenrick has said.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary said he would not get into “specific allegations” made by Dominic Cummings to MPs on Wednesday.

Asked if he thought Matt Hancock was a liar, as alleged by the former aide, he told Sky News: “That’s not my experience.

“Having worked with the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister last year were of people doing everything they could under unique pressure to try and steer the country through the pandemic and at every turn trying to do their best

“But were there things we could have done differently or better? I am sure that is right.”

7:50AM

Cummings takes revenge as he lays blame on Johnson and Hancock

Dominic Cummings on Wednesday accused Boris Johnson of being “unfit” to lead Britain and claimed tens of thousands of lives had been unnecessarily lost to Covid amid the Government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

In seven hours of explosive testimony to MPs, the former senior Downing Street adviser singled out Mr Johnson and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, for repeated criticism and allegations.

Mr Cummings was Mr Johnson’s closest aide before he was forced out of Downing Street last year. 

Sources on Wednesday night raised questions over his motives, suggesting the public would see him as “bitter”. Number 10 declined to comment on the allegations and said the Prime Minister would be judged “by the actions he’s taken”.

6:25PM

That’s all from us

We’ll be back tomorrow morning with all the latest from Westminster.

We asked you…

Whether you believed Dominic Cummings’s claims in his explosive committee session on Wednesday.

  • 69 per cent of readers said no: Mr Cummings is a scorned former aide settling scores.
  • 31 per cent said yes, his claims had a ring of truth.

See you tomorrow.

5:41PM

Hancock dodges another question on Cummings testimony

Steven Swinford from the Times asks Mr Hancock whether he has spoken to the Prime Minister about the allegation he was a serial liar last year, and whether Mr Johnson has given him reassurance that he has his confidence as Health Secretary.

“The Prime Minister and I talk all the time, and we’re working incredibly hard on getting this vaccine rollout as broad as possible, making sure people get their second doses,” he says.

“We are obviously very vigilant to the particular to the areas of the country where cases are starting to rise and as I’ve set out, so that’s what we focus on.

“Because that is what really matters to getting this country out of this pandemic.

“This isn’t over yet. And in a way, the rise in case rates in the last couple of days demonstrate that we’ve all got to be vigilant.

“All of us have got to take personal responsibility for what we can do to help keep this under control, as we get the vaccine rolled out.

“It is a race between the two. And that’s what we’re focused on,” he says.

5:33PM

Hancock says his ‘recollection’ was that he promised testing would happen when it could be done

Matt Hancock says his “recollection” is that he only promised to deliver testing for hospital patients when the capacity was available.

“There’ll be a time when we go back over all this in great detail, but my recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes, when we could do it,” he says.

“I then went away and built the testing capacity for all sorts of reasons and all sorts of uses, including this one, and then delivered on the commitment that I made. 

“That’s kind of a normal way of how you get things done in Government. You work out what needs to happen, you commit to making it happen. You go away and deliver on that commitment, and then you can put the policy in place.

“There’ll be a time when we can go through all of this in greater detail. The most important thing right now is that we’ve still got a pandemic to handle and to manage, and hence the announcements that we’re making today on vaccination, and the work that we’re doing to try to make sure we keep this epidemic under control.”

5:25PM

Matt Hancock dodges question he lied over care home testing

Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC asks Mr Hancock whether he told Downing Street that people who left hospitals for care homes in the first wave were tested first.

Dominic Cummings yesterday claimed that Mr Hancock had lied to the Prime Minister that people would be tested, only for them to seed more infections in care homes.

The Health Secretary gives a long answer in which he suggests there was not enough capacity to test people leaving hospitals at the time. He does not deny that he lied to the Prime Minister.

“We worked as hard as we could to protect people in living care homes, and of course those who live in care homes are some of the most vulnerable to this disease,” he says.

“By its nature, [Covid] attacks, and has more of an impact on older people.

“Now when it comes to the testing of people as they left hospital and went into care homes, we committed to building the testing capacity to allow that to happen.

“Of course, it then takes time to build testing capacity.

“In fact, one of the critical things we did was set the 100,000 target back then, to make sure we built that testing capacity, and it was very effective in doing so.

“And then we were able to introduce the policy of testing everybody before going into care homes, but we could only do that once we have the testing capacity, which I had to build, because we didn’t have it in this country from the start.”

5:21PM

Matt Hancock: Vaccine works ‘effectively the same’ against Kent and Indian variants

This is from our Political Editor, Ben Riley-Smith. 

Hancock says effectiveness of vaccines for Indian variant ‘does appear to be effectively the same’ as Kent variant after two doses.

— Ben Riley-Smith (@benrileysmith) May 27, 2021 2:37PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg rejects call for post-Brexit ‘localised’ tax regime 

The Government has been called upon to consider a “localised” tax regime as part of the UK’s post-Brexit freedoms. 
Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, asked Jacob Rees-Mogg to dedicate some time for “a debate on ending VAT and introducing a more flexible sales tax system”, suggesting that a “possibly localised” approach may have benefits. 

Mr Rees-Mogg said he was “certainly intrigued by his idea that we should have local competition in tax systems which they have in the United States”. 

But he added: “It is worth noting that VAT is a broad-based tax on consumption and it’s designed to ensure the fair treatment of both consumers and businesses, and has been adopted not just in the European Union but by I think 170 countries.

“So it may be that going away from VAT would not just be a statement of our Brexit independence but might be going against something that is a system that works quite well globally.” 

2:20PM

Covid case rates rise across most regions of England

Covid-19 case rates in most regions of England have risen slightly, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England.

North-west England saw the largest rise, with 52.8 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 23, up week-on-week from 39.0.

The East Midlands is the only region to have seen a slight fall in rates, down from 21.7 to 21.0.

It comes as the number of rapid Covid-19 tests carried out in England has fallen to its lowest level in five weeks – despite all members of the public being eligible to take two rapid tests a week.

Just under 4.9 million rapid tests were conducted in England in the week to May 19, according to the latest Test and Trace figures – down four per cent on the previous week.  

2:11PM

‘We don’t need Cummings to tells us care home rhetoric was nonsense’, says Labour MP

There has been a “higher proportion of deaths in care homes in England than almost any other country in the developed world”, shadow social care minister Liz Kendall has said.

She told the Commons: “Over the last 15 months, people with dementia and their families have suffered perhaps more than anyone else because of Covid-19. A quarter of all deaths from this awful virus have been amongst those with dementia, predominantly because of the tragedy in our care homes.”

The Leicester West MP and one-time leadership hopeful added: “The official guidance on testing before discharge to care homes did not change until April 16 last year, almost a month after we all went into national lockdown.

“We do not need Mr Cummings to tell us the rhetoric about putting a protective shield around care homes was complete nonsense, the evidence is there for all to see.”

The UK has one of the highest share of deaths amongst its care home residents 1:51PM

Bereaved families demand urgent meeting with Matt Hancock following Cummings’s claims

The Government has “missed the point” and is engaged in a “political pantomime” in the wake of Dominic Cummings’s testimony, a bereaved families campaign group has said. 

Following Matt Hancock’s Commons statement today the Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice claimed the Health Secretary has “refused to answer a single one from us – how can he when both himself and the Prime Minister have refused to meet with us directly on seven occasions?”

They urged Mr Hancock to meet next week and to release the internal ‘lessons learned’ inquiry. 

“How else can you stand there and tell bereaved families across the country you are open and transparent?” 

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice statement after Matt Hancock commons statement:

In Parliament Matt Hancock claimed that he and the Govt has a track record of openness, transparency & explanation & that they ”will keep on with the spirit of openness and transparency”.

1/6 pic.twitter.com/1nr7rn0Ebt

— Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK (@CovidJusticeUK) May 27, 2021 1:24PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg: ‘Ridiculous’ that punishments are worse for ‘misusing envelopes than sexual misconduct’

Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was “frankly ridiculous that we have a higher sanction for somebody who uses a few envelopes incorrectly than for somebody who is involved in sexual misconduct”.

He said: “It’s not so much a loophole as an active decision that was made in response to the views expressed by staff groups that they were concerned about issues relating to confidentiality if recall were allowed on ICGS cases, and they were also worried about the requirement to involve a committee in the House of Commons.

“In my own opinion I think that those worries are not proportionate to the need to be clear that this House and all politicians think that sexual misconduct is at the most serious level of misbehaviour.

“It is frankly ridiculous that we have a higher sanction for somebody who uses a few envelopes incorrectly than for somebody who is involved in sexual misconduct.”

1:22PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg calls on Rob Roberts to do the ‘honourable’ thing

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said it would be “honourable” for disgraced MP Rob Roberts to stand down after he breached sexual misconduct rules.

The Commons Leader confirmed the Government is looking at dealing with a loophole which prevents constituents of Mr Roberts from forcing a by-election. 

The Delyn MP faces being suspended from the Commons for six weeks after breaching sexual misconduct rules by making repeated unwanted advances to a member of staff. He also lost the Tory whip, but the way recall laws are drawn up means he cannot face the prospect of losing his seat.

Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “Following a case of this severity in which it would be honourable for a member to stand down after the withdrawal of the whip, we need to look at whether the process is striking the right balance between the defendants, protecting the confidentiality of the complainants and in ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case.”

1:06PM

Keir Starmer stops short of saying Boris Johnson is ‘unfit for the job’

Sir Keir Starmer has stopped short of agreeing with Dominic Cummings that Boris Johnson is “unfit for the job”. 

Asked directly whether he agreed with the former adviser, the Labour leader told jourrnalists: “I don’t think the Prime Minister has made good decisions in this pandemic.

“I was very concerned about the repeated mistakes from the first wave into the second wave, and in particular the slowness to lock down in the autumn, and I think the Prime Minister got that completely wrong.

“There are consequences and this is what all these allegations are about and that’s why the inquiry needs to be fast-forwarded, and we can’t have this drip, drip, drip of allegations, and we need to get to the bottom of it.”

1:03PM

Boris Johnson v Dominic Cummings is ‘Hobson’s Choice’, says Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer has said it is “Hobson’s Choice” whose account to believe, saying: “You have got Dominic Cummings on one hand and the Prime Minister on the other.

“I don’t think Dominic Cummings should have the last word on this and that’s why all the evidence should be put before the committee, the Health Secretary should answer the allegations and the inquiry should be fast-forwarded.

“It’s not about taking anyone’s word – it’s about getting to the bottom of it.

“We also have to look at the other evidence. We know people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without tests, we know protective equipment didn’t get to the frontline on time and we know the Prime Minister was slow to lockdown, particularly in the autumn and we know the consequence of that was the highest death toll in Europe.”

1:00PM

Have your say: Do you believe Dominic Cummings?

Dominic Cummings made some explosive claims during his seven-hour hearing yesterday – but were they true?

Matt Hancock has insisted they are not, telling MPs he has been “straight” throughout. Boris Johnson – somewhat more equivocally – said “some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.”

Labour insists his claims should be taken seriously – but struggle to explain why they are putting more credence in his words, having previously rubbished him.  

Yet a campaigner for the Bereaved Families for Justice said the account given by Mr Cummings fits his evidence. 

So who do you believe? Have your say in the poll below. 

12:56PM

Dominic Cummings was ‘speaking the truth’, says Bereaved Families for Justice campaigner 

Dominic Cummings “was actually speaking the truth” about the Government’s negligence for care homes, a campaigner for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice has said.

Charlie Williams, whose father died in a care home, said he was “absolutely sickened” by the former aide’s evidence. 

“It confirmed what we all knew – we have gathered evidence for the last 12 months on various different categories… all that Dominic said yesterday absolutely confirms our evidence,” he told Sky News. 

“We hold him to account as weld as the rest of the Government, but he was actually speaking the truth.”

Mr Williams attacked Matt Hancock for obfuscating in the Commons today, but said the “buck stops” with Boris Johnson. 

12:52PM

Cummings’s claims ‘paint a picture that leads to the PM’, says Starmer

Dominic Cummings’s claims “paint a picture that leads to the Prime Minister”, Sir Keir Starmer has said today. 

Asked whether Matt Hancock should remain in post, Sir Keir Starmer said: “There are very serious allegations in relation to the Health Secretary and so serious that, if true, are a breach of the ministerial code.

“We need to get to the bottom of it and Dominic Cummings cannot be the last word on this.

“We need all the evidence on this, we need to see the answers the Health Secretary puts forward and the select committee needs to have all the evidence,” he added. 

“They are very, very serious allegations. They paint a picture that leads to the Prime Minister and the buck stops with him.”

12:49PM

Lobby latest: No 10 ‘not aware’ if Lord Sedwill has been contacted over Cummings’s claims

Downing Street said it was not aware of any discussions with Lord Sedwill to respond to claims made by Dominic Cummings.

Mr Cummings alleged the former Cabinet Secretary had told Boris Johnson to fire Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and that he had advised Mr Johnson to go on television to explain the coronavirus plan was to reach herd immunity, likening it to chickenpox parties.

Asked whether Lord Sedwill had been contacted by No 10 to allow him to deny the claims, the PM’s spokesman said: “I’m not aware of any communication on that front.”

12:47PM

Boris Johnson dodges string of questions about Dominic Cummings

Boris Johnson has failed to answer a string of questions about claims made by Dominic Cummings yesterday. 

The Prime Minister dodged a questions about whether his former adviser had told the truth, and pressed on whether he disputed the things Mr Cummings said, the Prime Minister said: “I make no comment on that.”

Asked whether he said he would rather see “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown, Boris Johnson said: “I have already made my position very clear on that point.

“I’m getting on with the job of delivering the road map that I think is the sensible way forward.”

Mr Johnson has previously denied making the comment, which Dominic Cummings told MPs he heard from the Prime Minister in his Downing Street study.

12:44PM

Lobby latest: No answer on whether Boris Johnson regrets hiring Dominic Cummings

Downing Street has side-stepped a question about whether Boris Johnson regretted hiring Dominic Cummings. 

Rather than answer the question directly, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is a matter of fact that the Prime Minister took on Dominic Cummings into that role, into a senior role in No 10, and he’s on the record on that, talks about it on a number of occasions, I don’t have anything to add.”

His official spokesman said he had not asked Mr Johnson whether Mr Cummings was trustworthy and honest, but he added: “The Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings worked together for a number of months… but you’ve got his words from that time.”

12:42PM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson is not’obsessed with the media’, says No 10 

Downing Street has denied that Boris Johnson is “obsessed with the media”, as claimed by Dominic Cummings.

Asked whether the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds had tried to fill jobs with her friends, another claim made by Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “All appointments made in No 10 are done in the normal way, that’s always been the case.”

12:42PM

Lobby latest: Cooperation with Hungary vital, says No 10

Downing Street has defended a meeting between Boris Johnson and controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, due to take place tomorrow. 

Asked what would be discussed at the meeting, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “As president of the Visegard Group of Central European nations later this year, co-operation with Hungary is vital to the UK’s prosperity and security.”

He said the meeting would “promote UK interests in these areas and discuss issues in the wider region”.

12:23PM

Boris Johnson: Cummings ‘commentary doesn’t relate to reality’

Boris Johnson has insisted “some of the commentary” relating to Dominic Cummings’ claims yesterday “doesn’t bear any relation to reality”. 

Asked about his former adviser’s claim that he was not a fit person to be leading the country, the Prime Minister said: “I think it’s important for us to focus on what really matters to the people of this country.

“I think, if I may say so, that some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.

“What people want us to get on with is delivering the road map and trying – cautiously – to take our country forward through what has been one of the most difficult periods that I think anybody can remember.”

12:09PM

Boris Johnson: Government did ‘everything we could’ to protect care homes

Boris Johnson has insisted the Government did “everything we could” to protect care homes, but admitted: “What happened in care homes was tragic”.

Speaking to journalists for the first time since Dominic Cummings claimed that the so-called ‘protective ring’ did not exist, the Prime Minister said: “We did everything we could to protect the NHS and minimise transmission.

“We did not know at the beginning of the pandemic quite the way the virus could be transmitted asymptomatically.

“What we are doing now is trying, obviously, to protect all residents in all care homes. They have all had vaccines – up to 99, 100 per cent. That is the crucial thing.”

He appeared to ignore a question about whether he had “full confidence” in Matt Hancock. 

12:01PM

Pandemic decisions ‘not taken lightly’, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said the Government had to take an “incredibly difficult series of decisions” to tackle coronavirus, “none of which we have taken lightly”.

Speaking for the first time since Dominic Cummings gave evidence to MPs on Wednesday, Mr Johnson told reporters on a visit to a hospital in Essex that lockdowns were a “very, very painful and traumatic thing” that had to be “set against the horror of the pandemic” and that he had followed the scientific data.

11:51AM

Boris Johnson insists ‘horrors of pandemic’ were weighed up for second lockdown

Boris Johnson has defended his reluctance to impose a second lockdown, saying he had to balance the economic concerns against “the horrors of the pandemic”. 

The Prime Minister insisted he had always followed the science, and was continuing to do so. 

11:49AM

Michael Gove insists he was not completely absent from Dominic Cummings’ claims

It’s not just Matt Hancock who has been defending himself today – Michael Gove has had to explain why he was conspicuously absent from Dominic Cummings’ seven-hour testimony yesterday. 

Mr Cummings is a former ally of Mr Gove and key member of his team in the Department of Education, during the Cameron administration – prompting a certain degree of scepticism about why he did not feature during the mammoth session. 

The Cabinet Office minister told MPs he hadn’t watched the hearing, but added: “I do understand that I was mentioned and the point was made that I got some things wrong,” he added. 

“I’ve got lots of things wrong. But of course we will reflect on those in due course.”

Mr Gove’s response came as one Tory MP, Dehenna Davison, appeared via video link in the Commons with a spoof eye test chart reading “Barnard Castle”.

11:32AM

Labour MPs glued to their screens during question about bereaved families

Labour MP Rashanara Ali asks a sobering question, highlighting the many deaths in her own family as well as her constituency and the “incredibly distressing” testimony from Dominic Cummings yesterday. 

She asks Matt Hancock to “admit to the failures today and apologise” to bereaved families and asks for him to “bring forward the date urgently” of the public inquiry. 

Mr Hancock responds sensitively, noting that he has also been personally affected by the pandemic. 

He says “it is vital that people have the opportunity to get answers”, and that lessons are being learned constantly, but it is the “right approach” to have a full inquiry “afterwards”. 

As Reuters’ Will James points out, Ms Ali did not get a huge amount of moral support from her own benches. 

The opposition benches right now during Matt Hancock’s statement.

Note: That is a Labour MP asking a question virtually, and others have too. pic.twitter.com/D55FgJxPZo

— William James (@WJames_Reuters) May 27, 2021

We were told that Dominic Cummings was out to “damage Boris Johnson and the Government as much as possible”, writes Sherelle Jacobs.

In the end, the prime target wasn’t the Prime Minister, but  Matt Hancock, who found himself in the receiving end of a blunt knife in the front from the former adviser who had vowed to reveal all.

Embarrassing allegations that Boris Johnson was advised to retain him because “he’s the person you fire when an inquiry comes along” will heap pressure on the PM to make good on this threat sooner rather than later. 

Read more of Sherelle’s analysis here.

10:22AM

Coming up… Matt Hancock to rebut Dominic Cummings’s claims 

Matt Hancock leaves his London home Matt Hancock leaves his London home Credit: London News Pictures

Matt Hancock is sometimes likened to Tigger in his boundless enthusiam and energy. 

But today he will be challenged over whether that enthusiasm tipped over into exaggeration and – as Dominic Cummings yesterday alleged – lying. 

Former colleagues of the Health Secretary have suggested it is “v plausible”, citing examples where he had jumped the gun on work. 

“I think it is more over-enthusiasm with Matt. He hears things are possible and then tells you it is already happening,” the source says. “I don’t know whether it was wilful deceit – which I doubt – or out of control optimism.”

10:15AM

Have your say: Is Dominic Cummings to be believed? 

Westminster was enthralled by the testimony given by one-time Svengali figure Dominic Cummings yesterday. 

His explosive claims about Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson and others have set tongues wagging today – but the former aide’s credibility problem is casting doubt over whether he should be believed. 

Labour insists his claims should be taken seriously – but struggle to explain why they are putting more credence in his words, having previously rubbished him. 

Number 10 will be watching nervously to see whether the public believe Mr Cummings over his former boss. So who do you believe?

Have your say in the poll below. 

10:07AM

Batley and Spen by-election set for July 

Kim Leadbetter is standing for Labour in the seat held by her sister Jo Cox, before she was murdered Kim Leadbetter is standing for Labour in the seat held by her sister Jo Cox, before she was murdered Credit: Paul Grover for the Telegraph

Voters in Batley and Spen will go to the polls on July 1, with the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox hoping to retain the seat for Labour.

Kim Leadbeater has been selected as the Labour candidate for the by-election in the West Yorkshire constituency previously represented by her sister. The by-election was triggered after Tracy Brabin had to quit Westminster following her election as the first mayor of West Yorkshire.

The writ for the by-election was moved in the Commons by Labour on Thursday, with the party saying polling day will take place on July 1.

Labour is defending a majority of 3,525 over the Tories from the 2019 general election and Sir Keir Starmer’s party will be desperate to avoid losing another northern seat, after it failed to cling onto Hartlepool earlier this month. 

9:51AM

Government to scrap ‘arbitrary rule’ paving the way for expats to retain ‘votes for life’

British citizens who have moved abroad will be given “votes for life” under new measures announced today. 

The Government will set out further detail on plans to scrap “the arbitrary rule” that prevents British citizens from voting in General Elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years. 

The changes, which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also include measures to enable overseas electors to stay registered to vote for longer, with an absent voting arrangement in place. 

Lord True, the Cabinet Office minister, said:  “In an increasingly global and connected world, most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country.

“These measures support our vision for a truly Global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”

9:45AM

Dominic Cummings raised issues that should be addressed now, says scientist

Professor Stephen Reicher told BBC Breakfast of the need for an urgent public inquiry into what went wrong.

He said: “Many of the issues raised by Dominic Cummings about infection control, about supporting people to be self-isolated, about the messaging, about the borders, they’re still issues that are going on when we’re very concerned about the rise of this new variant…

“Yesterday should have been a public inquiry, it shouldn’t have been Dominic Cummings giving his side of the story, and, had it been a public inquiry, we might be saving lives for the future.

“We can’t, tragically, do anything about those who are lost, but perhaps it will give meaning to what happens if their experience teaches us lessons so that we learn for the future.”

9:34AM

Planet Normal: ‘Dominic Cummings has done his own intellect a disservice’

The gloves were off in Westminster yesterday as Dominic Cummings unleashed his blow-by-blow attack on the Government’s handling of the pandemic – and hosts of The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan were watching.

On this week’s show, Liam tells listeners why Mr Cummings’ performance did his own intellect a disservice, Allison tells us why she thinks Health Secretary Matt Hancock is the real pantomime villain and our podcast hosts agree that the former adviser may have delivered one punch too many.

Listen below. 

Planet Normal Ros Jones 9:30AM

Ministers ‘side-stepped’ Sage advice without explanation, claims scientist

The Government “side-stepped” advice without explanation when “the science didn’t suit”, a Sage scientist has claimed. 

Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, told Sky News that one example was the move from the two-metre rule to one-metre plus, where “Sage didn’t waver from its advice that two metres was significantly safer”. 

She added: “Instead of saying well actually, ‘we’re not going to follow that advice for these reasons’… the Prime Minister said he set up a Downing Street review of some scientists and economists and then, on the basis of that, they changed to one metre-plus.

“But we were never told who were the people on that review? What evidence did they look at? How did they come to their conclusions? And so that’s an example where, when the science didn’t suit, the Government side-stepped it without any transparency, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

9:15AM

Boris Johnson has ‘done a great job and deserves our respect’, says minister

The Prime Minister “has done a great job for the country and deserves our respect”, the Communities Secretary has said. 

Asked whether the public can have confidence in Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the wider Government,Robert Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, let me answer the thrust of the question, which is should we have confidence in the way that the Prime Minister has handled the pandemic? Absolutely.

“I’ve seen somebody address this with the utmost seriousness, someone who almost died of Covid at one stage, came straight back to work, got on with running the country, addressed this as best as he possibly could, always acting with the best motives and intentions, albeit with imperfect information at times in a uniquely challenging moment.

“I think he has done a great job for the country and deserves our respect.”

9:12AM

Local advice change ‘could have been better communicated’, minister admits

Robert Jenrick has admitted advice surrounding socialising and travelling issued to local areas with higher rates of the Indian variant of coronavirus “could have been better communicated”.

The measures were added to the Government’s website on Friday for Burnley, Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside, but local leaders said they had not been told and were unaware until it was reported on by local media.

The Communities Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the guidance that was put out to local councils could have been better communicated, but we are going through a period now where we’re moving away from a legalistic approach, where regulations are set out in law, it’s black and white, and we’re moving into a phase where we’re asking people to show personal responsibility.

“And so that does mean that we’re going to have to think carefully about how we communicate that to the public.”

9:04AM

Labour: Facts back Cummings’s claims

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has said there are “some facts” to back up Dominic Cummings’s claims.

She told Sky News that the problems in care homes and the death toll – the highest in Europe – reinforced some of the former aide’s claims. That is why a public inquiry needs to start immediately, she argued.

“There’s many people today who have lost loved ones, including myself, throughout this pandemic who will be devastated to hear that that could have been needless, and we need to know the answer to that,” she said.

9:04AM

Dominic Cummings is ‘screaming hypocrite’, claims MP

Robert Jenrick might be shying away from commenting on Dominic Cummings’ reliability, but others are being less circumspect. 

One senior Tory says the former aide is a “screaming hypocrite”.  “He said he wasn’t the right person to be there, but was still trying to recruit more freaks and weirdos to the place. He said Boris wasn’t fit to be PM but was central in putting him there.”

9:03AM

Minister sidesteps questions about Dominic Cummings’s reliability

Dominic Cummings “tried his best” when he was in Government, Robert Jenrick has said. 

The Communities Secretary said it was not “very helpful to get into allegations” made by former aide yesterday.

But asked if the adviser was “reliable”, Mr Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I worked well with Dominic when he was in Government, he tried his best as I think everybody did to serve the country to the best of their availability. He has now left Government and you heard him give his side of the events, which he is completely at liberty to do so.” 

Asked again, he said he would not “get into making personal allegations”.

9:02AM

Cummings’s ‘Lions led by donkeys’ claim is ‘not fair assessment’, says minister

Robert Jenrick has said Dominic Cummings’ claim that Government is full of “lions led by donkeys” is not “a fair assessment”. 

The Communities Secretary said he did not intend to answer every claim Mr Cummings put forward, but told BBC Breakfast: “I think the Prime Minister led the country through this with huge determination and resilience.

“He himself almost died of Covid at one point, bounced back, got back into running the country incredibly quickly.

“We had brilliant scientific advisers like Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance. We had the vaccine taskforce that the Prime Minister established himself. These things didn’t happen by accident, they happened because of active decisions made by the Prime Minister.”

9:02AM

Cummings at you: Six key claims for Matt Hancock to counter

Dominic Cummings made a series of pretty serious claims about Matt Hancock yesterday, which he is likely to have to rebut today. Here are six of the most explosive claims:

  • He is a liar: Cummings said Hancock “should have been fired for at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody in multiple occasions, in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly”. Specific points are that he lied about access to treatment and the protective ring for care homes. 
  • Cabinet Secretary ‘lost confidence’ in him: Cummings claimed that Lord Sedwill said he had “lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty” and made his concerns clear to Boris Johnson.
  • ‘Not even a plan to bury all the bodies’: Cummings claimed that Hancock had reassured him early on there was a pandemic plan in place, but it transpired there was “nada” – which is why lockdown was further delayed. 
  • “Criminal” test target: Cummings claimed that Hancock erred when he went public with the 100,000 test target, meaning that resource was diverted to a short-term “stupid” goal.
  • Responsibilities removed: Cummings claimed that the Health Secretary job had to be “divvied up” because the department was “overwhelmed”. He also claimed this was why the vaccines taskforce reported directly into Boris Johnson. 
  • ‘Tens of thousands died’ unnecessarily: It’s not clear this charge was levelled specifically at Hancock – who has been less hawkish on the lockdowns than others in the Cabinet – but it’s a serious claim nonetheless.

8:29AM

Step four of roadmap ‘hangs in the balance’, says Prof Ferguson

Professor Neil Ferguson has warned that the final stage in the roadmap for England hangs “in the balance”.

The Imperial scientist said experts were still concerned about issues including the transmissibility of the Indian variant and “Step 4 (of the road map) is rather in the balance, the data collected in the next two to three weeks will be critical”.

He added: “The key issue as to whether we can go forward is: will the surge caused by the Indian variant – and we do think there will be a surge – be more than has been already planned in to the relaxation measures?

“So it was always expected that relaxation would lead to a surge in infections and to some extent a small third wave of transmission – that’s inevitable if you allow contact rates in population to go up, even despite immunity – (but) we can’t cope with that being too large.

“In the next two or three weeks we will be able to come to a firm assessment of whether it’s possible to go forward.”

8:27AM

Boris Johnson was ‘listening to advice’ during second wave, minister insists

Boris Johnson was “listening to the advice available” and doing “at every turn what he thought was best”, at the start of the second wave last autumn, a Cabinet minister has insisted. 

Challenged over the fact that there were more deaths in the second wave than the first, several months into the pandemic, Robert Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme that it was “not true to say we knew all about the virus then… it wouldn’t be true to say today.

“We didn’t know about the new variants, we didn’t know quite how serious that challenge would become.”

He added: “We did take action, we did go into further measures.”

8:21AM

Prime Minister considered ‘all the evidence’ before ruling out September lockdown

Boris Johnson looked at “all the evidence in the round” when deciding not to lock the country down in September, the Communities Secretary has said. 

Robert Jenrick told Radio 4’s Today programme it was “not an easy decision to take” and those arguing for a circuit breaker “were wrong”. 

The Prime Minister instead opted for a tiered system “which may well have worked” if it was not for the Kent variant, Mr Jenrick added. 

8:19AM

Boris Johnson acted ‘with the best of motives’ at start of Covid outbreak

Robert Jenrick has defended the Government from Dominic Cummings’ claim that tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily.

The Communities Secretary told Radio 4’s Today programme that the former aide was “free to give his side of the story, but we will be setting out our version of events when it comes to the full public inquiry next year”. 

Asked if it was wrong to suggest that tens of thousands of people had died unnecessarily, Mr Jenrick said: “Yes I think it was, because you have to remember that we didn’t have all of the facts at the time the decisions were being taken.

“Nobody could doubt that the Prime Minister was doing anything other than acting with the best of motives with the information and advice that was available to him.” 

8:16AM

Professor Lockdown appears to agree with Cummings claims on herd immunity strategy

The scientist whose modelling was modelling was instrumental in persuading Boris Johnson to bring in the first lockdown has appeared to back up claims made by Dominic Cummings about the lack of a plan in mid-March. 

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London,  said scientists had become increasingly concerned in the week leading up to March 13 2020 about the lack of a clear plan, and 20,000 to 30,000 lives could have been saved with earlier action.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I would say from the scientific side there was increasing concern that week leading up to the 13 of March about the lack of clear, let’s say, resolved plans of what would happen in the next few days in terms of implementing social distancing.”

Prof Ferguson added: “As we saw the data build up, and it was matching the modelling, even worse than the modelling, let’s say it focused minds”.

Locking down a week earlier would have “unarguably” saved 20,000 to 30,000 lives, he said. 

8:13AM

Matt Hancock smiles ahead of bruising Commons appearance

Matt Hancock looked chipper as he left for work this morning Matt Hancock looked chipper as he left for work this morning Credit: PA

Matt Hancock will be up in the Commons from 10:30am, and it is likely to be a bruising session. 

Not only will he find himself challenged on numerous allegations made by Dominic Cummings, he will also face difficult questions over the extent that the Indian variant has spread. 

8:08AM

Robert Jenrick: ‘Not my experience’ that Matt Hancock is a ‘liar’

People have only heard “one side of the story” about the Government’s handling of the pandemic, Robert Jenrick has said.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary said he would not get into “specific allegations” made by Dominic Cummings to MPs on Wednesday.

Asked if he thought Matt Hancock was a liar, as alleged by the former aide, he told Sky News: “That’s not my experience.

“Having worked with the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister last year were of people doing everything they could under unique pressure to try and steer the country through the pandemic and at every turn trying to do their best

“But were there things we could have done differently or better? I am sure that is right.”

7:50AM

Cummings takes revenge as he lays blame on Johnson and Hancock

Dominic Cummings on Wednesday accused Boris Johnson of being “unfit” to lead Britain and claimed tens of thousands of lives had been unnecessarily lost to Covid amid the Government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

In seven hours of explosive testimony to MPs, the former senior Downing Street adviser singled out Mr Johnson and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, for repeated criticism and allegations.

Mr Cummings was Mr Johnson’s closest aide before he was forced out of Downing Street last year. 

Sources on Wednesday night raised questions over his motives, suggesting the public would see him as “bitter”. Number 10 declined to comment on the allegations and said the Prime Minister would be judged “by the actions he’s taken”.

Source : http://telegraph.co.uk/politics/2021/05/27/dominic-cummings-boris-johnson-news-covid-lockdown-variant-hancock/

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